Following years of touting a tuition freeze, Gov. Scott Walker announced Tuesday that he aims to actually cut undergraduate in-state tuition at all UW System schools.
The cut, announced during his seventh State of the State address, comes as a surprise to many. Walker penned a letter to state agency heads in July saying that the in-state freeze, originally implemented in 2013, was going to extend into the 2017-’19 budget.
In his address, Walker said the state will do more than freeze tuition by cutting undergraduate in-state tuition for all UW System schools.
“That’s right, we’re working and winning for Wisconsin,” Walker said.
Although lowering tuition can help Wisconsin families pay for higher education costs, UW-Madison administrators have said it can also strain universities by decreasing a source of revenue.
UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank commented on Walker's push to lower in-state tuition by emphasizing the school's goal to make the university affordable and accessible for all students.
"It is our hope that the governor and legislature will not only fully fund the proposed tuition reduction but also provide additional investment in the UW System in line with the modest request made by the Board of Regents, which is critical if we are to continue providing an outstanding experience to our students," Blank said in a statement.
UW System President Ray Cross also issued a statement on Walker's announcement, saying that he "applauds the Governor in his endeavors to keep college affordable for our students and families."
Outnumbered by the largest legislative majority in decades, opposing Democrats went unheard during the Joint Assembly Session, as the main body met Walker’s every proposal with gleeful cheers.
“[He] talked about university funding, but didn’t offer any specifics. His answer to student loan debt continues to be ‘Call your bank and good luck,’” said Assembly Assistant Democratic Leader Dianne Hesselbein, D-Middleton.
In his speech, Walker encouraged students to visit LookForwardWI.gov to find private lenders to refinance their loans.
“Wisconsin credit unions and banks offer
Citing inflation-adjusted data from the state’s budget agency, Hesselbein said support for the UW System is at an all-time low and questioned how the governor would fund technical colleges and universities amid the tuition cut.
With the biennial budget address approaching, specifics will likely be unveiled in a few weeks.
“If he’s willing to fund [the UW System], then that’s something we’d be open to,” Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said.
Though Walker assured an increase in K-12 public education funding, he did not reveal any details about UW System funding plans or how the university budget would be retained in light of the proposed tuition decrease.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said he would support funding the entire UW System budget request on the condition that those universities invite speakers with varying ideologies to speak on campus in order to bolster intellectual diversity.
“It should come as no surprise that the state of our state is outstanding ... I thank Governor Walker for his leadership and commitment to keep Wisconsin headed in the right direction,” Vos said. “We’ll continue to focus on improving our economy and giving a great education to every student.”
Despite some legislators' excitement for the future and Walker’s promising proposal to make college more affordable for Wisconsin families, other legislators left the speech feeling skeptical.
“[Walker] froze tuition without properly funding the university, and yet there is no relief for the skyrocketing student-loan debt most Wisconsin students graduate with, despite other states allowing for refinancing of debt, including Minnesota,” Barca said.
UPDATE Jan. 10, 4:20 p.m.: This article was updated to include additional information and comment.